What muscle structure is justly labeled the hallmark of the bodybuilder's physique?
Why, the deltoids, of course.
This muscle is also predominantly dependent upon the teamwork of other muscles, a fact the trainee must understand for truly dynamic deltoid development.
But before we can take out journey into the development of the deltoids, I must extol the merits of skeletal alteration. It's this skeletal network (bones) that permits the true width of the shoulders, not simply the muscular size of the deltoids. Just as if you were building your own home, you would make darn certain that its skeletal framework was as strong as the plans call for before applying the exterior layer.
Building the Shoulders From the Inside Out
It should be obvious that we must not neglect our skeletal framework. The best way to induce permanent bone adjustments throughout the whole body (specifically through the shoulder girdle and rib cage) is by performing the finest exercise in existence, the good old barbell breathing squat.
Yes, I did say squats. And ye, they are the same heavy barbell squats that you use in your leg workout. And yes sir, your true shoulder width is dependent on how hard you work this exercise.
Sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? Let's examine why they're so productive.
There is not and there never will be an exercise that can surpass the results produced by the heavy breathing squat. When this exercise is performed correctly, it has the distinct advantage of not only adding muscle over the entire body, but changing the whole skeletal framework so much so that it's difficult to believe "before" and "after" cases of many trainees who correctly used this movement. High rep breathing squats combined with pullovers produce forced breathing, which not only deepens the rib cage but also widens the shoulders (clavicles and scapula).
When the rib box is expanded (via heavy breathing squats), the shoulder will have to follow, so to speak. In essence, when the rib box is expanded, the scapula and clavicles will be forced to widen (due to their interrelation with the rib box) to further increase the width of your shoulders.
This means we must devise an approach towards skeletal alteration. You're probably wondering how the devil one can keep the deltoids pumped while doing high rep squats.
Hold on . . . there is no need to work the deltoids and legs simultaneously for optimum results. You see, skeletal alteration adjustments take place during rest.
On your leg training day, do heavy high rep squats (breathing style), the main concern being to exercise the legs. After each set of these breathing squats, lay across a bench and perform a set of dumbbell pullovers (medium weight), the main concern being rib cage stretch. You will be building large and strong leg muscles with the performance of heavy, high rep squats, and, through forced breathing and the pullover you will be increasing the rib cage and spreading the scapula and clavicles. Get the picture? You're literally building wide shoulders on your leg day.
Here is how to perform the breathing squat. After thoroughly warming up the thighs with light leg extensions, go directly to the squat. Carefully secure a heavy barbell across your back and step backwards so that you are free from the squat rack. Now, while standing erect with the bar across your shoulders, take three or four deep breaths. Hold you last breath, unlock the knees and slowly squat down to the low position. From this low squat position, simultaneously exhale while driving back upwards to the starting position. When you have returned to the upright position, take three or four deep breaths again and repeat the movement. Continue this breathing and squatting procedure until 20 repetitions have been completed. This constitutes one set.
After each set of squats, follow up with the dumbbell pullover on a bench. With the conventional bench press grip, hold the barbell (or dumbbells) directly over the chest with outstretched arms. From this position, lower the weight backwards until it is behind the head. Aim for ultimate stretch. Make certain that you take a deep breath while descending the weight. Exhale while bringing the weight upwards. Perform at least 15 reps.
If you're an ambitious beginner, go ahead and perform 2 sets of 15-20 reps of each exercise twice a week. Squat with a barbell that has been loaded with a weight close to your own bodyweight and always strive to increase the resistance.
If you're an intermediate, perform 3 sets of 15-20 reps of each exercise two to three times a week. You should work your squats until you approach a weight that is 100 pounds beyond your bodyweight.
If you're in the advanced stage, you will need about 4 sets of 20 reps of the squat/pullover superset two to three times a week to promote total stimulation. Make certain that you progressively add to the poundage of your squat until you are performing them with 150-200 pounds beyond your bodyweight.
If this approach of stimulating the legs for shoulder width still seems paradoxical to you, just remember that this is a multifaceted approach. Keep in mind that everything in life is interrelated somewhat. Work your legs with the above routine of breathing squats, and they will grow right along with your shoulders.
Also, I would like to suggest a wonderful well known movement to be used in conjunction with your skeletal alteration program - the one and only wide grip chin. This exercise is not only a great upper lat builder, but it's instrumental in permitting the widening of the scapula and the clavicles. You may want to do a few sets of wide grip chins at the conclusion of your skeletal alteration program when breathing is furious.
If you're highly ambitious, or in the advanced stages of bodybuilding, then you may want to devise a system where you perform a set of wide grip chins after every set of pullovers (which follow breathing squats). When performing these chins, use as wode a grip as possible on the chinup bar. After you have obtained a comfortably wide grip, hang from the low position for a moment to further help widen the scapula. Now, arch your back and pull up until your pecs come in contact with the bar. Lower yourself slowly, making certain to hang in the descending position for about three seconds or so before you proceed with your next rep.
Now on to the muscle itself. The deltoid muscle is a three sector muscle: anterior deltoid (front), lateral deltoid (side), and posterior deltoid (rear).
Every muscle in the skeletal muscular system has two ends. At each end, tough, fibrous cords of tissue (tendons) connect the ends of the muscle to the bones. The attachment of a muscle tendon to its most stationary bone is knows as the origin. The opposite muscle tendon of the same muscle is attached to a movable or less stationary bone, known as the insertion.
The deltoid has its origin on the lateral (outer) third of the front boundary and upper surface of the clavicle; from the upper surface of the acromion process (the outward flattened end of the spine of the scapula or shoulder blades) and along the lower verge of the spine of the scapula. From its origin, the deltoid descends downward and drapes over the shoulder joint into the three delt sectors.
From this point, the three sectors tend to meet in the direction of their insertion, the anterior sector moving backwards in a slanting fashion and the lateral sector moving vertically. They then join in a coherent fashion to produce a thick tendon, which is attached (insertion) on the center point of the lateral side of the humerus bone.
The skeletal muscles of the human body have the quality of being quite diversified in movement, and the deltoids are no exception. They are capable of a variety of movements: flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and rotation.
- Flexion: an angular movement which decreases the degree of angle between the bones. Example - pulling the arms up for the double biceps pose, raising of the arm to the front when walking, and the performance of the front lateral raise with a barbell.
- Extension: an angular movement which increases the degree of angle between the bones (the opposite of flexion). Extension merely returns the exposed bodypart to its previous position after it has gone through flexion. Example - moving each arm backwards as in walking or running.
- Abduction: moving the arm bone away from the axis of the middle line of the body. Example - the dumbbell lateral raise.
- Adduction: movement that brings the bone back home to the middle line of the body after abduction. Example - the negative portion of the dumbbell lateral raise.
- Rotation: movement of the upper arm bone around its own axis (outward and medial). Example - trying to maneuver a large steering wheel in either direction.
The anterior section of the deltoid is capable of flexion, abduction and to some extent, rotation, while the lateral section is capable of abduction, and the posterior section is capable of extension, abduction and rotation.
With all the deltoid's movement capabilities, one couldn't get them to function much above shoulder level without the aid of contributing muscles. The two most important muscles that aid deltoid productivity are the serratus magnus and the trapezius.
The serratus magnus muscle (quadrilateral finger shaped muscle located beneath the pecs and between the ribs) assists the deltoids in raising the arms from their side to right angles with the body's middle line. After the deltoid has lifted the arm to shoulder height, the serratus magus muscle and the trapezius muscle (large, flat trapezoid shaped muscle on the upper and posterior section of the neck and shoulders) rotate the scapula which takes the arm from a right angle (horizontal) position into a vertical position (arms overhead).
If the deltoids had to perform alone, they would not exceed much beyond shoulder height. It's important to understand that no muscle in the human body is entirely independent. Each and every muscle depends on other muscular structures at one time or another.
Putting Meat on the Shoulders
This is the part of the course that you usually see at the beginning of most deltoid courses, but due to its importance, the skeletal alteration routine was presented first. As for the actual development of the deltoid musculature, make certain you don't neglect any part of the muscle's three sectors.
Anterior (Front) Deltoid Exercises
(1) The Press - This exercise is most productive when a barbell is employed as opposed to dumbbells. Also, while you are pressing the weight to arms' length above the head, you must make an effort to simultaneously bend your upper body slightly forward into the completion of the press instead of leaning backwards. This will concentrate the movement on the delts rather than the upper pecs.
(2) Upright Row - With a close (six inches wide), pronated (palms down) grip, pull the barbell upwards while concurrently keeping the elbows out wide to your sides. Continue on your upward pull until the bar comes an inch or so beneath your chin. This movement also works the lateral delt head to a degree.
(3) Forward Barbell Raise - With straight arms (locked at the elbows) and a palms down, shoulder width grip, raise the barbell forward until it reaches shoulder height. This exercise is most effective when standing with the back against a wall for strict performance.
(4) Incline Dumbbell Press - Use an incline bench that has been adjusted just short of its steepest, 90-degree height (this high gradient will build frontal delts, not pecs). With a bench press (pronated) grip, simultaneously press both bells from the deltoids to arms' length above the chest. Make certain that you use a bench press grip (pronated palms) all through the course of this exercise.
Lateral (Side) Deltoid Exercises
(1) The Dumbbell Press - Instead of pressing both dumbbells overhead at once, you may want to press them in an alternating manner (one bell being pressed while the other is being brought down to its starting position). Once again, use a pronated grip.
(2) Dumbbell Lateral Raise - Use straight arms and raise the bells out to your sides until they approach shoulder height. Higher than this and the traps and serratus magnus will come into play. You may want to impart a bit of variety to this exercise by starting the movement with the dumbbells in front or behind you before you raise them from your sides. This stresses the lateral head from different angles.
(3) Lying Dumbbell Lateral Raise - Here is an excellent exercise for the lateral portion of your delts that you don't see performed much these days. First, lay on your side either on the floor or on an exercise bench. Grasp a dumbbell with your right or left hand (whichever side is up). Use the other arm to help bolster the body. With a straight arm, raise the bell, with your palm down, out to your side until it is almost vertical above your shoulder. Lower the bell and repeat. Don't forget to add variety to this movement, like starting from the front or back of your torso rather than your side (thigh).
(4) The One Arm Dumbbell Press - This exercise will thicken the lateral sector of the deltoid to unbelievable proportions. Clean a dumbbell to your shoulder and press it in a controlled manner to arm's length above the head. Work one arm at a time, leaving the other free.
Posterior (Rear) Deltoid Exercises
(1) Press Behind the Neck - Make certain that you warm up very carefully before you tackle heavy poundages on this exercise. With a barbell resting behind your neck (on top of your traps), press it to arms' length above the head. Lower the weight slowly until the bar is resting directly across your traps before you begin your next repetition. This exercise also affects the other two heads of the deltoid to a great degree.
(2) Bentover Dumbbell Lateral Raise - Bend forward at the hips so that the upper torso is parallel with the floor (same position you would use for bentover rowing). With straight arms hanging toward the floor, grasp a dumbbell in each hand. Lift the bells out to your sides (sideways) while striving to go as high as you can go. Lead with the little finger and do not lean backwards.
(3) Lying Dumbbell Lateral Raise to the Front - This movement will affect the rear delts like no other exercise. It is performed in the same manner as the lying dumbbell lateral raise (#3 in the lateral delt exercises), except that we raise the dumbbell in front instead of executing the movement from your side.
(4) Bentover Forward Barbell Raise - Bend forward at the hips so that the upper body is parallel with the floor. With outstretched arms toward the floor, grasp a barbell with a palms down grip. You will find a shoulder width grip is comfortable. Now, with straight arms (locked elbows) raise the bar until it approaches your head. Lower the bar slowly and repeat.
Let's construct a result producing deltoid program from our list of deltoid exercises. Pick one exercise for each sector of the deltoid (anterior, lateral, and posterior), and for each exercise perform 2 sets of 8-10 reps if you're at the beginner level, 3 sets of 8-10 for intermediate lifters, or 4-5 sets of 10-12 reps if you're an advanced bodybuilder.
The beginner should opt out for basic pressing movements over the lateral isolation movements. These basic movements should be the core of any bodybuilder's routine (especially beginners) because they allow you to use bigger poundages to develop initial size and strength.
Later, once you have a foundation of some size built up, pick one additional exercise for each sector so that you are performing two exercises for the anterior delt, two for the lateral delt, and two for the posterior delt. The set and rep scheme will remain the same.
For those who are more advanced, or need more specialization, pick three or four exercises for each of the three sectors for a total of 9 to 12 deltoid exercises. However, disregard the basic set system and opt for giant sets. Perform all exercises for the anterior delt, for example, one after another. Perform 2 to 3 of these giant sets for the anterior delt and then move on to the lateral delt for 2 or 3 more giant sets. Then hit the posterior delt with the same giant set scheme. Let your temperament be your guide regarding sets and reps, and experiment with the order of the exercises you use in your giant sets.
Always warm up thoroughly before you use heavy weights, perform your routine two to three times a week and keep your diet balanced.